surfer wearing a wetsuit top

Wetsuit Tops Full Guide

A wetsuit top is a great thing to wear when surfing on a summer’s day, that is a little bit colder than usual because they help you to stay in the water longer and catch more waves because they’re so thin and only cover your torso.

They also mean you have that flexibility as you would almost surfing without a wetsuit, but with a bit of extra warmth, let me explain more in detail below.

Wetsuit Tops Help You Surf Longer

Wetsuit tops are really good if there’s a little bit of wind on a summer’s day because they give that extra wetsuit-like protection and warmth to your torso, which is the most affected by the wind chill out of your body when surfing, because you sit upright on your board.

surfer wearing a wetsuit top
Me rocking my current Billabong wetsuit top (Amazon).
Also check out my surf boardshorts guide if looking for a pair, too!

Wetsuit Tops Are Only 1-2mm Thick and Very Flexible 

When you wear a wetsuit top, because they’re only one to two millimetres thick, you still have a lot of flexibility. Like you would almost surf without a wetsuit.

This is because when you wear a full wetsuit because it goes from head to toe, it can restrict your movement and make it a little bit harder to surf when you’re popping up.

For instance, it’s more restrictive wearing a full wetsuit. And so your pop-up needs more effort.

However, when you’re wearing a wetsuit top, you get the benefits of warmth and also the protection from neoprene.

But the flexibility is much better because it doesn’t reach down to your legs. So you only have board shorts on your lower half.

This gives the best of both worlds whereby you have extra warmth and the same flexibility as almost Syphon without a wetsuit, which many surfers love the feeling of. And I know I do as well.

Get A Wetsuit Top With A Back Zip

If possible, I have a wetsuit top that has a small back zip and that’s been the best one for me when I compare it to the other wetsuit top, I have that doesn’t have a zip, getting a wetsuit top with a zip means that it’s easier to take off at the end of a session.

And it’s much easier compared to one without a zip because of how awkward a wetsuit top can be to put on and take off.

taking off a wetsuit top
Me taking off my Billabong wetsuit top (Amazon) after a quick splash – much easier thanks to the small zip at the rear and back.

If I compare the two, I much prefer the zip, even though it has only a very small zip, it still makes a big difference when it comes to taking it off, to take off a wetsuit top.

You really want to cross your arms over in front of you and grab the bottom of the wetsuit top around your hips and pull upwards. But this can be quite difficult, especially when it is a very tight and good-fitting wetsuit top.

I found that many times I can get stuck with it and just to get it to start to come off can be quite difficult, which is where having little zip and on mine.

The zip is only a couple of inches up on the back from the bottom. Really makes that huge difference and makes it much easier to take off my wetsuit top.

wetsuit top with a back zip
My Billabong wetsuit top (Amazon) with a lower back zip

So I would strongly recommend you get a wetsuit top with a small zip on the back for surfing, for this reason, surf with a wetsuit top that is two millimeters (2mm) thick for cooler days or one millimeter (1mm) for warmer days.

I have both a 1mm thickness wetsuit top and a 2mm wetsuit thickness top. I used the 1mm thickness top out in Bali when I lived there for nearly three years.

And it was great for the dry season when the water temperature is relatively cool for barley standards.

Now that is in the tropics. And even then you still get a little bit of a chill on those dry season days. However, back here in the UK and Northern Europe, I really only wear the 2mm wetsuit tops.

And even then it’s on rare days because our water isn’t warm enough, but having a 2mm wetsuit top means I can surf in boardshorts and wetsuit top a couple of times a year here, and I feel fine.

I can have an hour or more in the surf without getting a chill, which is great. So knowing your local conditions goes a long way on deciding on the right wetsuit top.

If your water temperature stays below 70F, get a 1mm wetsuit top. If you are going to be surfing in water over 70F, that will help you to get the best for yourself and stay in the water the longest.

There’s very little difference in flexibility because the wetsuit top is only the top, but it’s still nicer to wear a thinner option if you don’t need the thicker one.

Get The Tightest Fitting Wetsuit Top You Can For Best Surfing Experience

Wetsuit tops need to be really tight to make sure that when you get them in the surf, they are a good fit and still offer you warmth because of the materials.

They will always get a little bit looser when wet. So if they are too loose or even baggy, they won’t do very much other than protect you from the sun.

I know the first wetsuit top I bought was too loose and it kept letting water flush through it and even sometimes came up over my head on heavy wipeouts or duck dives (not pleasant and even downright dangerous at times).

Although I loved it at the time, as soon as I bought my second wetsuit top the O’Neill Gooru, I realized how much warmth I had been losing all those years from having a loose-fitting wetsuit top.

Now, obviously don’t get something that is so tight that it feels dangerous, but get a wetsuit top that is a snug fit all around, especially looking at the neck and the wrists.

If the neck actually feels like it might be choking, you then stay away from that wetsuit top. Because if you can’t breathe, obviously that is very dangerous.

However, get a snug-fitting wetsuit top for the best warmth and surfing experience. And you should be fine.

This is also why I recommend trying on things like wetsuits in a surf shop and getting them from your local surf shop, if possible because the good fit makes it the best option.

However, if you can’t get there, then get the size that looks like it will give you the best option. If you’re between sizes, go down on the size options. I would say, just to make sure you get a wetsuit top that is nice and warm and a good fit.

What Is The Difference Between A Wetsuit Top And A Wetsuit Jacket?

There is no difference between a wetsuit top and a wetsuit jacket, except that some terms are more popular in Canada versus the US or the UK versus Australia.

Otherwise, wetsuit tops and wetsuit jackets are both made of neoprene. And simply like the top half of a wetsuit, different brands use different names, but otherwise, there is no real difference that you need to worry about.

So you can search for both terms to find the one for you having to what to wear under a wetsuit top don’t wear anything under a wetsuit top, because if you add an extra layer, it makes it less flexible and takes away from the benefits of wearing effects, wetsuit tops, which for me is flexibility.

I recommend wearing nothing under your wetsuit top for surfing to make sure you have the best surf wetsuit tops that are fully sun protected. You could possibly wear a rash guard under your wetsuit top, but I don’t really see the point, because again, it’s not going to add any warmth and it is only going to restrict your movement.

I also really like wetsuit tops because I have fair skin and they protect you from the sun when made of neoprene.

So they have good sun protection, which is different from rash guards of which only some protect from the sun, but not all.

So wearing a wetsuit top does give you warmth, but it also gives you the peace of mind that you’re protecting your skin from the sun and keeping it useful for longer.

Remember that surfing in the sun can be very damaging to your skin. And so sun protection for surfing is always recommended and definitely put on sunblock and some cream on your face at all times as well.

Get A Wetsuit Top With A Loop To Connect Your Board Shorts

If surfing powerful waves, look for a wetsuit top that has a loop to connect your board shorts. This means it keeps it from going up when you wipe out or get hit by waves, and this can come up over your head, making it difficult to breathe when you come up from a wipe out.

I had this when I was in Bali, and the wetsuit top I was using fortunately connected with my strings on the last thing for my board shorts.

Sometimes a wave would come and smash me. And if I was wearing a t-shirt, it would pull it up over my head, which is dangerous. When you come up from a heavyweight wipeout, you need to be able to breathe, which is not easy with fabric covering your mouth!

So look for one that has a connecting loop, as an O’Neill wetsuit top, like the one I’ve got, which is really helpful for peace of mind and also for better functioning gear.

It’s only a little bit of elastic at the front, and you should be able to see it in the product images and descriptions when you’re looking through wetsuit tops, but most O’Neill wetsuit tops do have this.

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